This past week, I sat in a classroom at The Fortune Society with a group of young men and women in their late teens and early 20s. All had been arrested. Most had done some jail time.
The conversation that day focused on the legalization of marijuana. The discussion was troubling. Sadly, Mr. Rogen, you were the source of my concern.
At 81 years of age and the Founder of The Fortune Society, I was the old man in the room. The legal status of marijuana was of minor interest to me. Keeping these young people out of jail and prison was my major goal.
Another older guy who stopped by the class had just finished his fourth state prison sentence. He told them, "Every time I was arrested, I was high. I did things when I was high that I wouldn't have done if I had been straight."
He added, "I'm 56 years old and I have a 9:00 p.m. curfew. At least once a week, the cops come by and check on me because a crime's been committed with my 'M.O.' I always have to account for where I've been and when. That's me today because of the life I started to lead when I was 14 years old. Getting high all the time. I'm not telling you what to do... just letting you know what happened to me."
At that point, an 18-year-old said, "Seth Rogen says he gets high on weed every day; he's a movie star."
How do you respond to that? With the truth. I said, "More than 78,000 people are doing time across New York State. Eighty-three percent of them need substance abuse treatment. Odds are you have a better shot at Attica than appearing in a movie."
Mr. Rogen, I wasn't prepared for anyone to cite your boastful use of weed to justify getting high. I had to point out that Rikers Island is a long way from the "red carpet" in Hollywood.
Our goal at The Fortune Society is to keep these youngsters out of jails and prisons so they can have the lives they deserve, so that they don't have to compromise their freedom.
So, Mr. Rogen, we need some help from you. It might be cool to get high in your environment, protected from sweeps, stops, and frisks. But the mostly Black and Hispanic youths at The Fortune Society don't have that entitlement. We hope that you will reconsider your announcements about weed intake because the message is being heard to the detriment of others. Not because they or you should or shouldn't get high, but because the rules are different -- for them.
I asked the students, "Why do you get high?" The answers were consistent: "It makes me feel good," or "I was stressed," or "I could relax."
I then asked, "If getting high makes you feel good, what is it that makes you feel bad?" Because, I told them, after the high wears off, whatever made you feel bad will most likely still be there.
The conversation was animated and hopeful, due mainly to their collective spirit and energy. The hope is that they can find and take advantage of the tools and support they need in life to keep them out of the criminal justice system. If they end up in jail, their chances of a successful life are severely reduced.
Mr. Rogen, the young people I know are worth caring about. You certainly are not responsible for the actions and choices of people unknown to you. But, you must be made aware that your words have been heard. When you make public pronouncements about weed, it has consequences.
Everyone knows that the playing field isn't even. We are happy for your success, but want you to understand that our young men and women should have a chance at the good things, too. Help us with that, please. Don't be too cool. It causes some heat.
Founder & Former Executive Director
The Fortune Society